In all my recent portmanteau and pun-based ramblings, I can’t believe I left out one of the writing words-of-the-moment, “listicle”. As portmanteau words go, it’s a pretty rubbish one (come on, combining just one letter is a bit unchallenging) but it’s certainly popular.
The best way to define a listicle is “what Buzzfeed does”. List-based articles with titles such as “The 22 strangest things that have been banned around the world” and “17 perfectly passive-aggressive cakes” (two of today’s offerings on Buzzfeed) are pinging onto our Facebook pages faster than the 14 fastest rollerblading ducks (not yet on Buzzfeed).
Easy to read, and to be honest, pretty damn easy to write, the listicle is a mainstay of blogging and other internet-based writing. It’s been around a lot longer than that – women’s magazines for example have been offering us “Six ways to be a stereotypical-caricature-in-great-shoes” certainly since I was old enough to sneak a look at my mum’s Cosmo.
It was inevitable. Here’s my listicle about the benefits of writing a listicle.
- It’s a great way to communicate. It’s not lazy journalism: serving up information in easy-to-digest chunks is a time-honoured method of capturing and keeping your reader. Short, often pithy one-liners are of-the-moment, integrate very well with social media, and work well with our busy/shallow/overloaded/thinking-in-tweets twenty-first century brains.
- There is something for everyone. In a list, say, “10 things everybody hates about Christmas”, there will be at least one comment, one little truism, that everybody thinks “Ooh, that’s just how I feel!” Reader engaged.
- Don’t tie yourself in knots putting your points in order. The listicle also differs from the old “Top Ten” approach by being non-hierarchical. Yes, have a killer opening item if you want people to read on, but you don’t have to worry about ranking things. It’s pleasingly democratic.
- You don’t have to think of a title. For writers like me, who are pretty fast on the whole but can spend the rest of their natural lives trying to come up with a title, the listicle can be a godsend. The titles are eye-catching enough (I mean, 15 facts, about celebrity donkeys, all in one place? I’m in…) We all love a cop-out when it can be dressed up as a convention.
- Who’s counting? A listicle stops when you run out of things to say, which is another difference to the countdown approach. For example Buzzfeed’s homepage today includes lists of 12, 15, 24, 43 and 19. Beautifully random, and not subject to the tyranny of editing your article by rounding up or down, just because 20 looks “more finished” than 19. Say what you need to say then stop.
Even if you don’t want to sit at your desk and compose “5 witty facts about my cat” this morning, the listicle produces a way of thinking that can be very useful. A list organises your thoughts and helps you focus on the key issues. Imagine you are compiling a listicle called “The five most amazingly fantastic gorgeous things about my business/product/services”. Write a bullet-pointed list with a sentence covering each of those five facts. There’s your basic starting point for marketing copy.
Embrace the listicle, despite its clunky name. It’s too fashionable to be around forever, then we’ll probably have to start reading in proper paragraphs again. And I can give you several reasons why that would be a pity.